We have been pretty good about staying away from folks with all of the Covid quarantining, but with restrictions loosening up around Virginia and a set of balding tires on my car, it was time to head in to the city to get them fixed.
The car dealer where I was getting the work done is a 45-minute drive from home, so I planned to camp out there. I brought along my trusty computer, hoping to get some work done. It was not to be.
People in Southwest Virginia are loquacious, and everyone has a tale to tell. I enjoyed some stories from a nice lady, a retired nurse who worked at the huge Veterans Administration hospital in Salem, and I admired pictures of Buddy the car salesman’s geodesic dome house (and learned the story of how he was able to buy it for cash) (hint: it had been a “hippie house”). I had a great talk with Theresa, who has a son the same age as that Reynolds boy who is now back in Kentucky (neither of us know what to do about those darned video games that keep the kids up all night). We all talked about wearing masks, and how we didn’t like them covering our noses. We talked about current events, with Buddy observing that we all bleed red.
Some of these folks were white. Some were Black. Chatting with all of them was much more enriching than burying my face in my computer (even if not, well, literally). And anyway, I got my chance because evidently the mechanic liked my car so much that he found more things wrong with it and I got to stay longer than any of my new friends.
I have not yet met a southwestern Virginian introvert.
Just like that, We have been here for a year! Our Wirtz-aversary sneaked right past us.
It was not surprising, though. The summer was a blur. One of the Reynolds kids spent her summer at school, taking classes. She was here for the month of May and again for a week at the tail end of July.
Our other college kid was here, working in the kitchen at a local pizza spot. We didn’t see too much of him but it was sure nice having him around.
Jim and I worked on our various projects and responsibilities, did some traveling, and boom, now here we are with the leaves starting to turn and a year in southwest Virginia under our belts.
We’ve done a lot: found work, a church, a doctor, a dentist, a hairdresser (me), a barber (Jim), a place to buy plants, a gym we like, and some fun people to talk to. Those curvy roads aren’t nearly as scary as they were when we first arrived. I’ve loved getting to know our neighbors, both the “from heres” and the “come heres” and appreciate their kindness and pride in this beautiful place.
And I still marvel at the sight of the mountains and am delighted to come around a corner and spy some cows hanging out doing their thing. To wake up every morning and see the lake in our backyard feels like a gift every single time.
I’ve had some folks ask if I miss our old home. Sometimes I do, but I try not to. I miss the people that I used to run into without even thinking about it, and instead focus on appreciating how those tiny interactions brighten a day. So I make a point of running into people here, too.
Last fall, I was chatting with one of the guys at the dump who had moved with his wife from New Jersey, and was planning to move back after ten years at the lake. “I made a life here,” he said. “She didn’t.” I thought that was sad. So that became my Number One Goal: making a life here. I think we’re doing okay.
A few weeks ago, when I posted about running around in the woods, one of my friends commented that I sure made it look enticing out here in the country. And I’m grateful because that’s exactly my point: I really want you all to see how amazing it is out here in Franklin County.
But of course not every day here is full of wonder. And I’m not just talking about the days you get stuck driving behind this guy.
Jim jokes that our cat feels like every time he looks out the window he sees something terrifying. I get that sometimes (raccoon on the porch? Hard pass on that one).
There’s a lot of adjustment moving to a new spot. We lived in the busy DC suburbs for nearly 30 years (even longer for me), and when you leave that behind as a middle-aged person, you also leave behind a real comfort zone.
And it’s eye-popping to explore a new place, but sometimes, just sometimes, you start to wonder if you’re going to be able to find a spot to fit in. That’s where I’ve been for a couple of weeks.
So dudes, wait until you hear some of the stories about trying to find folks to hang out with. And of course, I will still try to entice those nice people I know (like you, Larry!) to come here too.
Getting out in the woods is so good for your soul, there’s even a name for it: forest bathing.
I’ve been doing a little of that myself over the past few weeks, with my renewed outings with the Shine Runners. I found this fun pub-run group last fall, but took a break from joining them during the winter because (it’s cold and) they run on local trails in the dark. I tried that once. I didn’t like it. And they run fast, in all conditions, for really long distances. Like running superheroes.
But spring is here and with it daylight savings time. Those evening runs are once again taking place in the early twilight. I am by far the slowest of the group, but I’ve kind of designated myself the go-to person in case anyone wants a casual pace. And it’s been great.
We’ve gone out to Chaos Mountain Brewing, where you can run by a farm and catch a glimpse of a tom turkey (and hear him gobbling) as well as plenty of good-looking cows. Then maybe sit by the fire pit and enjoy their Marg and Rita gose, mmmmm.
We’ve enjoyed the woods around the Brooks Mill Winery, where Cathy and I took a wrong turn, disturbing some goats and dogs in a little barnyard (their owner came out on her porch in her pajamas to assure us that the dogs wouldn’t hurt us, but please, don’t let them follow us). And last night, a small group (okay, two of us) climbed up Grassy Hill in Rocky Mount.
Grassy Hill was the most running I’d done in my run/walk combo, particularly as we headed downhill. And I noticed something. As you go running through the woods, you get to feeling very Midsummer Night’s Dream (“Check me out, I’m PUCK, y’all! IN THE WOODS!”).
Maybe it was relief at not feeling like my knees were wrecking themselves. Or not wiping out on the rocks (because Grassy Hill is a misnomer. It’s rocky). But it’s exhilarating.
And who needs to be a superhero when you can be a Shakespearean fairy? Seriously, go run in the woods.
I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, and maybe I should, because I just got back from a great trip with our eldest child. Here’s the experience boiled down to a couple of quick thoughts:
Keep open to new ideas
For her last spring break of college, our daughter suggested that the two of us take a trip to Sedona, Arizona. I didn’t know much about the destination but we got started researching and it turns out that it’s a phenomenal place. If you can imagine the nicest person you know, and then imagine that person is a place, that’s Sedona.
Keep up the best you can
My girl is 22. She’s a fit little mountain goat when it comes to climbing around on trails. Me, not so much. But I jumped in on those hikes and was rewarded by beautiful scenery and very fine company.
I did not, however, even try to keep up with a 22-year-old when it came to prickly pear margaritas. I did the driving.
Keep an eye on the weather
We went to the Grand Canyon. It was cold. Like, slushy roads and snowballs cold. Boy, I know those tourists at the canyon were surprised because we sure were, too. And by the way, this challenged my expectations of what “Arizona weather” was all about. I was grateful for the hat I’d popped into my bag at the last minute.
Serendipity is everywhere
As I was flying through Charlotte, NC, on the way out to the Phoenix SkyPort, our son happened to be flying through on his way home to Roanoke. We caught up for just a minute right there at the airport. (Okay, I stalked him a little.) But to have a day where one runs into both of one’s kids in airports thousands of miles apart? Magic.
Even the bad stuff isn’t all that bad
On the flight home, my journey took me through Philadelphia instead of Charlotte (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke). The plan was to fly out and land in Roanoke in time for dinner with the husband and that younger college kid mentioned above.
But then the flight crew was late.
And the weather went south.
We sat on the tarmac for 2-1/2 hours before the plane rolled back to the gate and the flight was cancelled. By the time we got off the plane and were wiggled into flights for the next morning — none of which were heading to Roanoke (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke) — it was after midnight. I don’t know Philly. I didn’t know where to go for hotel with a shuttle that would get me back to the airport by 6:30 for my early flight to Charlottesville, VA. So I elected to stay overnight at the airport.
I don’t recommend it if you can help it. But I did learn that the security screening opened up at 4:30 am (and the lines are much shorter!), which allows a bit of a nap at the gate before the breakfast spots start opening. Au Bon Pain never tasted so good.
The flight to Charlottesville’s (posh) airport was blissfully short and I was met by a husband who drove the extra hour to come pick me up. And even though they aren’t made of red rock, our mountains never looked so welcoming.
While I was away, the flowers had started blooming and I’m pretty sure there are some baby cows out there in the fields. It’s nice to come home to something that looks spring-y and new.
I refer to our locale as Southwest Virginia, but that’s not quite accurate. From my studies in Richmond this week, I affirmed that we actually live in the Piedmont Region, or what is sometimes called the Blue Ridge Highlands. In other words, it’s hilly as heck around here, but the real mountains are only glimpsed from afar.
Like this big boy right here.
You can see this behemoth rising majestically as you face west from the local Kroger. We had some friends down to visit, and one of them wanted to know which mountain it was.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. He pointed out that it was the largest mountain in the area, and I probably should have made something up but I didn’t and it still makes me wonder.
Well, one day I was over near the Kroger at The Cottage Gate, my go-to gift shop where the ladies behind the counter and I had a nice moment telling stories about our pets (I related tales about our old wine-drinking cat, Sofie, and one of the ladies told me about her son’s ferret, Fred, who got into someone’s beer at the Franklin County races) and it occurred to me: maybe they might have some intel about the mountain that looms over the shopping center. Sadly, they had none. They promised to find out and I promised to come back and check in.
It is surprisingly difficult to find maps online with individual mountains listed on them, but in getting ready to write this post, I came across this map that suggests to me that we are looking at Cahas Mountain. And yes, it’s a biggie.
If you drive into Boone’s Mill and follow the sign for Chaos Mountain Brewing, the road takes you eight miles up that mountain, where you might drive by logging trucks, fields of cows, and fellas in white pickup trucks heading to work on the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline project. Yep, I’ll have to go let the ladies at the gift shop know that we can consider this mystery solved.